Crowds pray at foot of volcano

 Huge crowds gathered at a shrine to Our Lady, at the foot of Mount Etna in Sicily at the weekend, to pray for the volcanic eruptions to subside. The Archbishop of Catania, Luigi Bonmarito, celebrated an open-air Mass on Sunday, at Belpasso, a pilgrimage site dedicated to the Madonna. In the nearby town of Nicolosi, threatened by the devastating lava flow, worshippers later packed the church of Santa Maria della Grazi and laid flowers at the shrine of St Anthony, the town's patron saint. Mount Etna has been spewing lava since July 12. Local residents say the eruptions are the most serious in living memory. Workers have been building trenches to redirect the lava flow away from the tourist centre of Rifugio Sapienza, halfway up the mountain. Sightseers are being kept away from the danger zone. The 1,000C river of molten lava has already swallowed up a huge cabin housing snow ploughs, along with a tourist car park and several ski lift pylons. Speaking above the sounds of explosions from the volcano, the Archbishop said: "We are here to implore the Madonna to give us the faith, the hope and the courage to confront our difficulties."